He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags Are Killers

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So I finally worked up the nerve to have the first 3000 words of my WIP read out loud and critiqued at a writing conference.

Gasp!

Yeah, I know, but there I was, in the crowd, waiting for my page to be drawn and read out loud by an actual publishing person, and then judged by other prominent publishers, writers, and agents. And I’m talking about a couple of heavy hitters in the room, recognizable by face as well as name. When I heard my working title read, I tensed, trying to not look too guilty of being the creator of this passage, even though I may have noticeably readied myself a bit more for taking notes. I’ve hesitated to do this in the past, but after revising it a few times based on other classes and advice I had gotten from reading and researching, I felt pretty good about letting this one be judged. Hey, we need to get used to being judged in public settings anyway, right? Why not here, where the learning, and the help, is readily available?

The instructions from the reader to the panel were to listen and read along, and raise their hands when running across anything that would make them stop reading, things like poor flow, bad grammar or vocabulary choice, a boring scene, non believable actions or situations, etc. If during the read, the panel showed three raised hands, the reading was stopped and then discussed. If the reading was allowed to finish, the panelists all took turns critiquing the work, both for what they enjoyed and where the improvements could be made.

Gulp!

My words were read out loud, and I could feel myself silently reciting the chapter with the reader. One hand went up. My eyes caught the motion of a hand being raised. I hoped for an instant that they just had an itch on their head, but no such luck. I panicked a little and started scanning the panel and hoping that there would be no more. The judges remained looking down at their copies of the transcript, intently reading along. No hands seemed ready to bolt up, and as the read was completed, they all seemed intent to listen to more. A big sigh escaped my chest.

But…

Something wasn’t right. While having someone else read my words out loud, I noticed it. So did the judges, by the way, who were all in agreement. Dialogue tags. Too many dialogue tags. The story was good, and the setting built the level of suspense that I had hoped. But the story read choppy, because of all the “he said, she saids” I had inserted. They were killing my pacing while adding extra, unnecessary words to the chapter. I had two people conversing in the entire scene, so there was no need to keep telling the reader who said what. I can achieve that through voice and proper dialogue, which I was glad to discover and learn in a separately offered class within this same conference.

But if it wasn’t for hearing a professional in the writing industry read my words for a set of equally professional judges and experts, I may not have caught this fault until further down the path in my WIP, and that wouldn’t have been good news for writer or reader.

He said it, she said it, they all said it. And I listened.

Good writing!

 

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